MTV will host the first ever Mental Health Youth Action Forum in coordination with the Biden-Harris administration Wednesday.
The goal is to elevate the voices of young people – sharing their ideas to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health and come up with solutions to help those who are struggling.
“You never know what the other person is feeling next to you unless if you speak about it,” 18-year-old Kheira Bekkadja said.
MTV is shining a spotlight on mental health with help from 30 young people from across the country.
“Those 30 young people are creators and activists,” said Vaughn Bagley, director of social impact at MTV Entertainment Group. “Some of them have founded their own nonprofits. They’re entrepreneurs who have founded companies focused on mental wellbeing.”
She says hundreds applied but only a select few were chosen.
Among those taking part in MTV’s Mental Health Action Forum at the White House is 21-year-old Cynthia Yue from George Washington University.
“Growing up, mental health was highly stigmatized, and it was never a huge priority within the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community,” she said.
“There was always this pressure from my family, which had risked everything to bring us to come to America and bring us the American dream,” she said.
She said she often felt like the weight of the world was on her shoulders but turned her own anxiety into advocacy and now serves as a youth observer to the United Nations.
“I’ve met with and worked with young people who are in war zones who have shared with me how these issues have impacted their mental health,” she said.
Bekkadja, a freshman at George Mason University who attended Edison High School in Alexandria, is sharing her mental health journey.
“I’ll never forget this interaction with one of my teachers,” she recalled. “She asked me for a nickname, because my name was very hard to pronounce for her, and it was the first time someone has ever questioned my identity.”
Bekkadja says it took some time to feel comfortable in her own skin as a Muslim American woman, and she credits the Our Minds Matter club at her school with giving her the courage to share her story. She hopes it inspires others to do the same.
“There’s no shame in sharing about your struggles or if you’re feeling anxious or tired or stressed, because most likely, the person sitting next to you is also going through the same thing,” she said. “So just creating that sense of community.”
These students went through a six-week virtual program, sharing their experiences and coming up with mental health solutions. It culminates with a presentation at the White House with politicians, tech companies and nonprofits that all have the power to help bring their ideas to life.
“We want to be able to continue to uplift their voices, because they’re the ones that really deeply understand the challenges and the barriers that they and their peers have faced when trying to take mental health actions,” Bagley said.
The ideas they’ll present at Wednesday’s forum include advocating for a change in U.S. labor laws by creating mental health days just like sick days.
If you or someone you know is struggling, there are a lot of resources online.